How Paul Walsh met Ronaldinho: Google translate leads GAA star to his hero – The Irish Times

Kerry footballer Paul Walsh has told of his meeting with his childhood hero Brazilian soccer player Ronaldinho recently in Rio de Janeiro.

The 2018 minor footballer of the year befriended the soccer player’s brother, who is his manager, on social media almost two years ago and told of his dream to meet his hero.

“I have been a fan since my earliest memory, he was my childhood hero growing up. When I was younger I didn’t want to cut my hair as I wanted it to be long and curly like him,” Walsh told RTÉ radio’s Today show.

“He was my hero, not just because he was an unbelievable soccer player, the best in the world, it was the way he played the game, he reminded people that sport is to be enjoyed because he was playing for fun when everyone else was playing to win.

“You just knew he was having the absolute time of his life on the pitch. He was more of a character and a life role model than just a sporting role model. But obviously also a sport role model.

“The joy that he had in the game was never seen by any other person in any other sport either.”

Walsh and Ronaldinho’s brother Assis communicated for months using Google translate with the Kerry player explaining his ambition to meet the soccer star.

“It was basically me just explaining to him what a fan I was – from Ireland, I was a Gaelic player, that I’d love to show him the sport. I was trying not to be too pushy. Not overly fangirl. I had pushed a little bit, I explained how much he meant to me.”

After messaging back and forth for a year, Walsh received a message last week from Assis saying that he could arrange to meet in Rio. “I was over the moon I couldn’t believe it really.”

Star struck

Despite a fear that he was being “catfished” (being lured into a relationship with a fake person), Walsh decided he would take a chance. As he did not want to worry his parents he did not tell them where he was going.

He also did not want to say anything in case the meeting did not happen. “As it was when I got to Rio I was waiting outside the gate for hours and I didn’t think I was going to be let in because no one knew I was coming. Apparently he wasn’t in the house or he was sleeping or something.”

Eventually Assis made contact with security at the gated complex and Walsh was brought to the house. “The housekeeper gave me a cup of coffee, then his friends came over, we had a few drinks by the pool, until he finally got up and came down.”

Ronaldinho had some English and with the assistance of his friends who translated, they two discussed their respective careers and the Irishman showed the Brazilian some clips of Gaelic football games.

“It was the first time in my life I was genuinely star struck, can’t believe you’re standing in the spot where you are. Not many people get the chance to meet their heroes.

“I wasn’t planning on telling anyone until I got back, I sent photos from the house to only a few friends. Nobody would believe me.

“It was only because nobody would believe me that I sent the photo of me and him with the jersey and then they must have let it out, because I then began getting messages.

“He was genuinely impressed by it (GAA), I don’t know if he was just being nice because he was genuinely the nicest person you could meet – the first thing he did when he came down the stairs was he came over and he gave me a hug, I presented him with the jersey then. You couldn’t ask for a nicer person to meet.

“He signed all my jerseys, I brought over a few. Then he asked me to sign the jersey I gave him.

“It was a dream come true.”